Feds Approve Arizona Gaming Compacts But No Plans To Visit AZ Sportsbooks Yet

Written By Derek Helling on May 27, 2021
arizona gaming compacts

On Monday, the federal government made the new Arizona gaming compacts official. Honestly, that’s a bigger deal for tribal casino operators in the immediate term than it is for sports gambling in Arizona.

Federal approval of the contracts was an essential legal step for future online and retail sportsbooks in AZ, for sure. Clearing that hurdle really just keeps future sportsbooks on track for launches later this year, though.

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The immediate impact of the now-finalized Arizona gaming compacts

On Monday, the US Dept. of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) published approval of the new Arizona gaming compacts in the federal registry. The agreements between the BIA, the 16 tribal groups, and Arizona’s state government include several changes from their predecessors, including:

  • An immediate increase of over 6,000 slot machines across all facilities plus allowances for more on an annual basis
  • Increasing the total number of casinos the operators can run to 55
  • New table games for the tribal casinos
  • Retail sports betting on the same properties

Thus, tribal casino operators like the Gila River Indian Community can build out their new gaming tables and add more slots as soon as they’re ready. Additionally, they can get to work on their brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. Ground-breaking on four new casinos is also probably now in the works.

Federal law still prohibits online wagering on tribal lands. So, barring a change there, all sports betting on sovereign land will only be done via betting kiosks and windows. There are no timetables for when physical sportsbooks will open at any of the 24 tribal casinos near AZ cities.

But what about non-tribal retail books and sports betting apps in AZ? The BIA’s consent really doesn’t affect them much, other than to give them the legal leeway that everyone already assumed. The estimated timeline hasn’t accelerated with this news.

Stadium Sportsbook Deals Aren’t As Valuable in Arizona For This Reason

Still looking at fall 2021 at the earliest for AZ sports betting

For the presumptive Caesars Sportsbook near Chase Field, DraftKings Sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, and FanDuel Sportsbook at Phoenix Suns Arena, this is kind of like getting a yes response to a marriage proposal when you were quite confident prior to actual asking. BIA approval of the contracts would have only been news if the BIA had denied such consent instead.

It was an important enabling event, however. The legislation empowering non-tribal sports betting was contingent upon the BIA’s cooperation. The state still has a lot of work to do before any of those operators can actually start taking bets.

It’s now the job of the AZ Dept. of Gaming to push this forward. The department has the task of drafting regulations for daily fantasy sports and sports betting in the state. The new gambling expansion law is silent when it comes to a tax rate for DFS and sportsbook revenue, for example.

The process from here will look somewhat like this:

  • Dept. of Gambling members compose draft regulations
  • Draft regulations go public, with a comment period
  • After the conclusion of the comment period, regulators review the draft and make adjustments
  • Regulations go up for a vote and legislative review
  • Upon final approval of the regs, license applications become available
  • Interested parties complete applications and pay fees
  • Regulators review and vet applications, then make decisions
  • Licensees tailor systems to comply with regulations
  • Regulators inspect systems for compliance
  • Regulators issue go-live authorizations after successful testing

So, when might all that be done?

That process should take months and for online sportsbooks, the compliance testing phase is much more involved. It isn’t uncommon for sports betting apps to go live in markets months after their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

It’s possible that AZ regulators could move quickly on this matter. Indiana’s retail books launched just eight months after the enactment of that state’s sports betting law, for example. To get everything live by the start of the next NFL season, Arizonians will have to beat even that pace.

The low number of non-tribal licensees, 10 at most, could help move this along as well. Additionally, there’s no requirement for go-live authorizations to occur all at once. It’s possible that some operator(s) may get to market before others.

The goal is still retail betting by September and mobile wagering by the end of this year. The word “goal” is very important in that sentence, though. No one in any official capacity is making any promises at this point.

So while the BIA approval is good news for bettors who can’t wait to use the Caesars, DraftKings, and/or FanDuel apps in AZ, it’s no reason to think such opportunities are immediate. It’s still going to be several months if not at all this year.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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